In conducting research on winter flounder, I interviewed several guides that target trout during the coldest months and each of them said they have incidentally caught flounder all over the flats. The largest and most fish tend to be caught near the drop-offs bonding to any nearby cover like small clumps of oyster.
Another key location for winter flounder fishing is near warmwater discharges of power plants and refineries. These areas are frequented by anglers seeking redfish and to some extent trout during the winter but there are flounder below them.
Baitfish congregate here during cold spells, making it a sort of buffet for flounder.
They will sit down current of points and thick shoreline cover and can be found in eddies that form near drop offs. Small baitfish cannot negotiate current very well and they often are stuck in eddies. Flounder will stack up in these eddies and gulp up the shad, shrimp and whatever else ends up there.
Something to keep in mind is that even small flows from a single drainpipe can draw fish. They may not hold massive schools of fish for long periods, but even a slight change for the positive in water temperature can make a difference in cold weather. It is very important to look for the little things in these spots since very often that is all it takes to attract flounder.
After locating winter flounder, there are a few key strategies I have developed over the years that can virtually ensure catching fish.
For lure fishermen it is crucial to realize natural trumps flashy. Water begins to clear up in the winter period due to a lower presence of algae in the water. Clearer water means flounder often turn away from bright colors like pink and chartreuse, which can be so good during the spring-fall timeframe. I use smoke, shad, clear, light brown and salt and pepper colors during winter. I almost exclusively use fluorocarbon line during this time as well due to wanting to eliminate the possibility of losing flounder due to them seeing the line.
It is also important to fish super slow.
In winter if you think you are fishing, too slow you are probably not fishing slow enough. Use a super slow approach and then if you are not getting bit speed up. Always err on the side of slow and then increase your speed. The fish are not as scattered this time of year so you will need to locate fish and focus on area with high probability of catches and then once you establish a bite fish slow and be aware of their delicate strikes.
Instead of getting the classic “thump”, yin winter you often feel pressure on the line or it feels sort of “spongy”.
In these situations, I have started to downsize my lure. I typically use a four-inch Twister Tail in hot pink in the fall run. However, when the bite is strange, I switch a 3-inch Twister Tail or go straight to the 2.5-inch Sassy Shad. For the last two years, it has been the only thing to produce more fish for me in consistent numbers after the middle of November.
I noticed the need to downsize three eight years ago when we were fishing an area of the ship channel nearby some waders who were catching many fish. We were in a boat and could not get shallow enough to make short casts like they were and have full contact with our lures. The current was strong and the casts were long which I do not like when flounder fishing.
Within a few minutes of downsizing, I started being bit.
I think it is twofold: action and convenience.
Although we were not in the zone where the fish were up shallow feeding, we were able to catch some fish on the perimeter than were on a less aggressive feeding pattern. The smaller curltail has a faster action on the tail and by simply letting it flow with the current making tiny, tiny hops you can work it and keep contact with the bottom. Secondly, flounder are unique among our big sport fish. While fishing big live baits or lures will eliminate many smaller fish, they do prefer smaller baits. Studies have shown that even big flounder (unlike speckled trout which switch to chiefly larger finish at maturity) prefer smaller baitfish, as they grow larger.
I have found that when they are on an aggressive feed, they will hit big or small lures, however when you find some fish that are not so hungry downsizing can make a big difference.
Chester Moore, Jr.